The Teniente Gimo legacy

By Herman M. Lagon

IN THE charming town of Dueñas, Iloilo, a story has been passed down through generations, a narrative that has chilled both young and old to the bone. It is the story of Teniente Gimo, a figure shrouded in mystery and fear, a supposed aswang who has become an integral part of Ilonggo folklore.

As a child in Lapuz, Iloilo City, I remember how the story of Teniente Gimo kept me, my siblings, and my playmates, anxiously indoors at dusk, fearing we might fall victim to the infamous aswang of Dueñas. It was a story that parents used skillfully to ensure their children were home for dinner, putting an end to our games of pikyaw, basketball, taksí, trumpo, sulpot, or katsure. The legend of Teniente Gimo may not hold the same horror as characters like Balak, Sadako, or Pennywise nowadays. However, its legacy continues to resonate in the hearts of many Ilonggos.

Let us delve into the depths of this legend, exploring its origins, impacts, and the importance of preserving such folklore in contemporary times. It is a journey back to a past filled with mystical tales and cautionary stories, reflecting a rich cultural heritage uniquely ours. Through this quick preview, we revisit the chilling tale of Teniente Gimo and underscore the significance of our local folklore in shaping our identity and values.

The legend of Teniente Gimo is said to have originated from the mystical and magical Dueñas, a 424-year-old town in Iloilo. As the story goes, Cabeza del Barrio Teniente Gimo was a respected figure in his community, but behind this façade lurked a sinister secret. He and his family were rumored to be aswangs, shape-shifting creatures of Philippine mythology known for their malevolent activities. One popular version of the tale involves Gimo’s daughter inviting a friend over, only for the friend to discover their horrific intentions and narrowly escape a gruesome fate. While it sends a chill down one’s spine, this story serves a purpose beyond mere entertainment. It is a narrative woven into the fabric of our society, imparting lessons and reflections on human nature and morality.

Folklore like that of Teniente Gimo plays a crucial role in preserving our cultural heritage. These stories, passed down through generations, are not just mere tales but repositories of our collective history, beliefs, and customs. They offer a window into our ancestors’ world, revealing their fears, values, and the way they understood the universe around them. In a rapidly modernizing world, where traditions are often forgotten, folklore is a testament to our rich past and a guide for future generations.

Moreover, these stories foster a sense of community and shared experience. In the case of Teniente Gimo, the story is a shared cultural touchstone for the Ilonggos, a common thread that binds the community together. It reminds us of our roots, a connection to a shared past that is increasingly important in a globalized world where cultural identities are often diluted.

Teniente Gimo’s legend in Dueñas (and eventually spread to nearby towns, especially Dumangas) also highlights oral tradition’s importance in our culture. In a world dominated by digital media, oral stories like these keep our traditions alive, maintaining a link to a form of communication that is intimate and personal. They remind us of the power of the spoken word, of the magic that lies in a story told by the fireside, under the stars, or around the dinner table.

However, with the passage of time, there is a risk that these stories may become distorted or forgotten. Media portrayals, like the controversial episode of a popular TV “documentary” about Teniente Gimo, demonstrate how easily the essence of these tales can be lost or misrepresented. This highlights the critical importance of meticulously preserving and faithfully recounting these tales, safeguarding their fundamental essence and cultural importance to prevent any dilution of their original message and significance.

In preserving these stories, we must also adapt them to contemporary contexts, ensuring they remain relevant and relatable. For instance, the legend of Teniente Gimo can be used in schools and circles to discuss broader themes of trust, betrayal, and survival, timeless and universal threads. This not only keeps the story alive but also allows it to evolve and continue to resonate with new generations.

The legend of Teniente Gimo is more than just a tale to scare children into obedience. It is a cultural artifact, a piece of our collective history that deserves to be preserved and passed down. It teaches us about our past, reminds us of our shared humanity, and continues to bind us as a community. As we look to the future, let us not forget these tales that have shaped us, for in them lies the essence of our Ilonggo identity, history, and heritage.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.